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Nothing like a dame

CHRISTMAS THEATRE

Aganeza Scrooge

Tron, Glasgow

Until January 5

Too Many Penguins?

Traverse, Edinburgh

Until December 22

Reviewed by Mark Brown

SINCE the turn of the millennium, when Forbes Masson penned legendary shows such as Aladdie and Weans In The Wood, Glasgow's Tron Theatre has been the undisputed home of the Scottish pastiche panto. There is a certain inevitability, therefore, in Johnny McKnight's arrival as the writer, director and – let's face it – glittering star of the Clydeside playhouse's latest festive show.

McKnight made his name as a pantomime creator and performer at the MacRobert Arts Centre in Stirling. This year he has written three pantos, with productions at the Lyceum, Edinburgh and the MacBob, as well as this Tron show.

His Aganeza Scrooge relocates Dickens's A Christmas Carol to Glasgow with a wonderfully absurd contempt for historical accuracy and continuity. Comparing this hilarious and raucous night out with the rather flat production being staged at the Lyceum, one realises that, more than McKnight's writing, it is his outrageous stage persona that accounts for his yuletide success.

On press night at the Tron, I suffered for my less-than-enthusiastic review of the Lyceum show. As Aganeza (McKnight in a gloriously ridiculous costume, all padding, psychedelic colours and hair that looks like it was designed by Sue Ellen from Dallas) made her way down the auditorium stairs, yours truly was selected to have the fragrant lead sit on his lap with all the delicacy of George Galloway at a feminist conference.

When he's not sitting on theatre critics, McKnight is leading a brilliant cast, including Sally Reid as a very funny Tiny Tim, among others, and Darren Brownlie, camper than Christmas in various roles. And the show is cleverly pitched to entertain adults and children alike. The only question is why, during the vision of pantos yet to come, is poor Tiny Tim blessed to be wearing a shirt of Paisley's pride, the Stars in Stripes, current League Cup semi-finalists, St Mirren FC?

Talking of brilliance in black and white, Frozen Charlotte theatre company's award-winning Too Many Penguins? makes a welcome return, transferring from the MacRobert (where it premiered last Christmas) to the Traverse. I missed the show last year, due to a weather-related cancellation. Catching it now, it isn't difficult to see why it garnered so much critical acclaim.

The show, in which Mr Polaro is inundated with penguins (thanks to the gregariousness of his neighbour, Penguina), is a charmingly off-beat piece of theatre for children aged one to four. Adults of a zoological bent might point out that Mr Polaro is bound to be annoyed by the arrival of the penguins, given that polar bears live in the Arctic and penguins in Antarctica. However, that geographical conundrum is far less perplexing than the question of how the little flightless birds (represented by a host of delightful soft toys) manage to get into every nook and cranny of Mr Polaro's house.

Joe Douglas and Nicola Jo Cully give beautifully gentle yet lively performances as, respectively, Mr Polaro and Penguina. Director Heather Fulton's production is also blessed with a lovely set and half-creature/half-human costume designs by Katy Wilson.

It seems almost churlish to find fault in this nice little show, but if it lacks anything it is, for much of the running time, interactivity. The children are thoroughly involved at the end, when they borrow a penguin for a lovely moment of avian dancing. However, for too long the kids are required to simply watch. Funny and fascinating though the popping up of the penguins is, it isn't a substitute for the start-to-finish interactivity achieved by, for example, early-years theatre masters Oily Cart.

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